By Katrina Young | Out on the Page
If you ever have the chance to experience one of Staceyann Chin’s dynamic performances, don’t hesitate. Do it. This Jamaican-born lesbian poet and activist displays a rawness in her presentation that allows you to feel every emotion that she invokes throughout her performance. Her no-holds-barred approaches to issues surrounding sexual and racial injustice will make her proponents applaud and will make her opponents quiver.
Though “The Other Side of Paradise” does not go far into her life as a lesbian or activist, it does a great job of showing how she became the unapologetic, passionately proud woman that she is. Chin is always open about whom she is but her memoir gives that honesty in an even more candid — and often tender — voice. The memoir tells her story from conception through childhood, adolescence, and finally, her growth into womanhood.
Chin’s story is full of hardships. She did not live in the Jamaica of the postcards and rum commercials that many tourists flock to. Her beloved Jamaica carried the weight of colonialism, classism, sexism, and religious intolerance. The role of religion in Chin’s upbringing is a constant thread woven throughout the book and can be seen in chapter titles such as “As for Me and My House, We Will Serve the Lord.”
In her memoir, she shares her experiences of self-discovery outside of the roles given to her by family, religion, and society. Chin also shares her struggle for healing and restoration.
She lived an impoverished life in her early years as her grandmother struggled to provide for her and her older brother. She was raised by her grandmother and later by other family members after being abandoned by her mother and not knowing much of her Chinese father (which undoubtedly had a significant effect on Chin as a biracial child). Chin expresses vulnerability over not having her parents around. Time and again she tells false accounts of the wonderful life her mother was living abroad but making sure to add that her mother would someday return for her.
Chin approaches her experiences with grace by including in her memoir the lessons she learned from the occurrences in her life that were meant to break her down. As she states in “The Other Side of Paradise,” she has accomplished more than just surviving. She ends her memoir by encouraging readers to find their own truths. “Your own truths, your own stories, your yearning for the other side of your very own paradise.”
Take some time to get to know more about Staceyann Chin. Make sure to read her memoir “The Other Side of Paradise” and even watch a few of her live performance videos.
If you enjoy Chin’s work then you will also enjoy the work of the women that will be featured at an upcoming event hosted by the Multicultural LGBT Literary Foundation, titled, “We Alive: A Celebration of Black Lesbian Womanhood” March 8 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. There will be vibrant performances and book signings.
—Katrina Young is the treasurer of the Multicultural LGBT Literary Foundation. She is a lover of literature and a developing activist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.